He’s as analytical as they come, so it’s safe to assume Paul Konerko has thoroughly dissected what his future after baseball and the White Sox holds in store.
The White Sox team captain feels as prepared as he can for what’s ahead and said Thursday — four days before his career ends — he’s at peace with his decision.
Konerko’s children haven’t had the chance to process what dad’s retirement after Sunday’s game means, nor do they have the ability at this point in their young lives to fully comprehend it. So while Konerko plans to step away from baseball after 21 professional seasons, including 16 with the White Sox, he said his oldest son has already established some parameters for how long the absence can last.
“My kid said the other day that he’s going to allow me to be out for a year then I have to get back in,” Konerko said. “But the reasons are that he’s great friends with the kid that lives next door to us (in Chicago) and he loves the chicken fingers at the ballpark. So that’s what I’m working with.”
As for what he expects over the final series, Konerko isn’t really sure. With a bunch of family, friends and former teammates in town, Konerko plans to “take it as it comes,” he said.
Originally scheduled to play Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, the team’s plans changed and Konerko will instead play the final three games. He hopes to play mostly at first base and said he would willingly leave Sunday’s finale were he to hit a home run. He also promises to stick around for another at-bat if he hits a dribbler to the pitcher.
Konerko strolled to home plate before first pitch on Thursday to hand out the team’s lineup card, something he also did before Wednesday’s game. As he did, the team played Konerko’s “Thank You” video for White Sox fans, which led to applause and the first of what promises to be one of many “Paulie” chants over the final four days.
Konerko said he shot the video right before the team left for its nine-game road trip and is pleased with the production.
“It’s everything I kind of wanted to get across,” Konerko said.
[MORE KONERKO: The career that almost never was]
Konerko also feels good about the direction the White Sox are headed and sticking around this season. Asked for some of his favorite U.S. Cellular Field career memories, Konerko cited Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game and no-hitter, the “blackout game” from the 2008 season and a fight with the Detroit Tigers in 2000.
“That was a good one,” Konerko said.
Konerko said he’s proud of his World Series ring but even more for staying with the White Sox when twice he could have left as a free agent.
In citing some of his strongest influences, Konerko rattled off his father, ex-White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, and former assistant hitting coach and current Arizona Rookie League manager Mike Gellinger.
“Without (Walker and Gellinger) I don’t do a lot of things,” Konerko said.
Konerko recalls a conversation with Walker from five or six seasons earlier in which the hitting coach challenged him to exhaust all his energy before he retired. Using an unprintable word, Walker told him anything less was unacceptable and Konerko feels like he has lived up to the expectation.
“‘If you don’t max out with everything you’ve got, that’s what you are,’ ” Konerko said of the advice. “There’s definitely a satisfaction knowing as far as I could with it because I didn’t want to let him down and of course myself down. But there’s a lot of that, where you feel happy you got everything you could get out of it. There’s nothing left.
“I have no doubt it’s the right time and the right thing. That’s all cleared away in my head.”
For now, Konerko has no plans to return to baseball because of his children’s age and the commitment he knows it would take. He hasn’t closed the door to one day returning, but promises it would be after a lengthy absence because any decision wouldn’t be good for spending time with his family.
Konerko hopes to be more of a tourist when he travels in retirement than baseball has allowed. He’d like to visit Italy and knows he will miss living in Chicago, calling the opportunity to play here one of the best available to players. He also intends to play a lot of golf.
Other than that, Konerko said most of his energy has been dedicated to getting through his final season and he and his wife would worry about their post-career plans afterward.
Now he only has his three children to convince, including his oldest son.
“They understand it’s coming,” Konerko said. “He’s not really happy about it. I don’t think they understand what they’re going to get out of the deal and that’s me being around, being able to do stuff with them that I haven’t been. I think they’ll be fine. We’ll move on and do other things. I think they don’t understand what’s coming because I’m not playing, they only look at what they’re not getting.”